Our Lady Of The Blues
‘Nothing, unless you’re buying. No money.’
‘I’m not buying.’
‘I’m not eating.’
‘You’re going to have a cup of coffee at least.’
‘Don’t have a dime.’
Stan looked at Dewey. He admired his strength of will but he was sure Dewey was lying which of course Dewey was. He had that twenty but he wasn’t about to show it.
They got back into the yellow VW to continue on in the brilliant yellow sunshine bursting almost into song over the Great Valley of California. Zippity do dah.
Stan probed insistently as they drove past the outskirts of Bakersfield. He was going to get that twenty. Had it been a pre-beating Stan he might very well have but with his stuffing missing Stan lacked real nerve. He could be hit in a couple places where it still hurt. It would have to be a sucker punch on Dewey. He tried another ploy.
There is no natural water in the San Joaquin but clever Californians had built and were building massive dams that provided irrigation water. Large amounts of that water were used to irrigate cotton fields in the Kern County desert. Bakersfield is actual desert. As they were driving past the budding cotton a plane was flying ground level dusting the cotton for boll weevils or whatever.
Stan brought the VW to a halt by the side of ninety-nine.
‘Look they’re crop dusting. Let’s watch for a while.’
‘Uh, I’m in a hurry man. Why don’t I get out?
‘Relax. Just watch.’
Dewey doubled his fist keeping his eyes on Leland, ready to defend himself because he realized his danger. He would have to be knocked out or killed for Stan to get his twenty.
Stan’s right arm draped over the seat to feel for a wrench on the floor but he needed surprise also. He needed Dewey to look the other way but Dewey’s tenseness indicated he wasn’t about to.
With a sigh Stan put the VW in gear but now he was sore.
‘You aren’t a nice guy.’ He said with a pout. ‘You don’t deserve to ride in this People’s Car. You’re not real people. Get out.’
‘Thanks for the ride anyway, man.’ Dewey said opening the door before the car came to a complete stop. ‘Sorry about the twenty.’
Dewey had to turn away to keep from laughing in Stan Leland’s face. Leland had maybe carried him sixty miles which represented twenty cents in gas. Did Leland really think Dewey was going to fork over twenty dollars for a quarters worth of fuel when Leland had to use the same amount of gas anyway?
Leland drove off in a huff cursing Trueman’s back.
Dewey focused his eyes before him. He was standing in front of a strip mall. One of those glitzy but commonplace California restaurants was in front of him. Inside he could see the owner or manager hopping around anguished at the sight of him.
Dewey turned around to survey the Great Central Valley of California. It was bright and it was hot. The highway structure was an immense pre-asphalt love affair. A divided highway of concrete led in two lanes each way, the center strip itself was two lanes wide. A two hundred mile long row of oleander bushes obstructed the glare of oncoming headlights at night. The oleander, which is a very beautiful flowering bush, is drought resistant which is an essential quality for the Valley. They are poisonous to cattle but that seemed to be of little consequence in the middle of the highway, although everyone always mentioned it. They grow maybe ten feet high.
Highway 99 had a paved shoulder which increased its width as well as an unpaved shoulder. Another ten feet was kept bare before a chain link fence seprarated 99 from what was called a frontage road which allowed locals to get from place to place without entering the highway. So all in all there were six lanes and spare. The whole complex was two hundred fifty feet wide. The road was the old fashioned kind that was just laid on top of the ground rather than dug in.
When they built the concrete rollerball chute called Interstate 5 a couple decades later they set it over by the concrete canals carrying water from Shasta. They built 5 on the same principle as the canals except the channel carried cars and trucks instead of water. The highway games played on 5 were real live rollerball.
But 99 was a more humane road. It bypassed all the towns from the Grapevine to Modesto. For whatever reasons 99 was the main street of Modesto. The wide apron made it a very good hitchhiking road; cars could stop easily and safely.
The temperature was building up as Dewey looked back in the restaurant to find the manager with his nose pressed to the glass violently gesticulating at him. Finally he ran to the door opening it a crack to shout at Dewey: ‘Move along. Move along. Hitchhiking’s against the law. We don’t want you around here.’
Dewey looked at him in some wonder then thought that maybe buying a cup of coffee might placate him. Dewey had no sooner opened the door than the little man shouted at him: ‘Get out. Get out. No service for you.’
Dewey was mystified giving an uncomprehending shrug. What the heck, he was in uniform, Uncle Sam’s own Blues. Even a couple customers intervened for him. ‘Take it easy, Mel. What’s the problem? He’s only a sailor, for Chrissakes, he’s serving the country. Because of him you can sleep more securely at nights.’
‘If he’s an example of what is serving the country I won’t be able to sleep at all.’
Dewey gave him the look anyone would give a looney as he stood half in and half out.
‘I want you out of here or I’ll call the police.’ The man named Mel raved hysterically.
Dewey left stepping back to the highway. Mel called the police anyway.
Ten minutes later a Bakersfield Police car, not the California Highway Patrol, pulled up in front of him. He was accompanied by a young civilian of nineteen years who stared at Dewey silently. The CWB got out of the car approaching Dewey: ‘Are you hitchhiking?’ He half said, half challenged in the CWB manner.
Dewey had stepped back on the grass so as to give credence to the notion that he was not hitchhiking but just taking the air but then thought better of it.
‘Yeah. I am.’
‘You know it’s against the law.’
‘No, I didn’t know that. You see so many guys hitchhiking.’
‘Yeah. Well, it is.’
Mel stuck his head out of the door: ‘That’s him officer, that’s him. Arrest him.’
In point of law, which is irrelevant to the CWBs, Dewey was outside the Bakersfield city limits and hence beyond the jurisdiction of the CWB. The cop looked at the civilian who hadn’t taken his eyes off Dewey: ‘Is that him?’
The boy solemnly shook his head no.
‘I’m not going to take you in this time, Sailor, but you better be gone if I come back.’
‘I certainly hope to be.’ Dewey smiled.
‘Arrest him. Arrest him.’ Mel screamed. ‘That’s him.’
The CWB waved Mel off. Mel in his hysterical fear locked his door causing problems with people who wanted out and preventing people from entering.
Dewey was looking at him shaking his head whan a car stopped in front of him.
‘Get in man.’ Came a voice with an unmistakable Mexican accent.
Dewey turned to find a ’56 Chevy with five Mexicans in it looking aggressive. Dewey may have had to get away from that spot in a hurry but not that big a hurry. He’d rather take his chances with the CWBs.
‘I’m going all the way to Oakland. You’re just going up ahead a ways, right?’
‘Yeah. That’s right man. Get in, man, we give you a ride anyway.’
‘That’s alright. I’ll wait for a longer hop.’
‘Get in the middle.’ The guy on the right back said holding the door open for him.
A very dangerous situation it was. Shotgun in front was cleaning his nails with a stileto. The other guy in back had his hand on the door ready to leap out. The restaurant was locked. It would take five guys with knives about thirty seconds to finish him. Dewey decided to trust to his charm as limited as that was, he got in the middle in the back.
Martin Luther King the apostle of non-violent resistance was heading for his mountain top from whence he proclaimed that White Americans were bred in the bone racists. Black Folk claim that King was the greatest man America ever produced but he was nothing but a back country screeching pastor of a patriarchal consciousness thing. True, the cause was just; true, there were egregious wrongs that had to be corrected but King himself was a weak reed who left his wife at home while he panted after White women in the pursuit of his notion of justice. That he was any kind of spokesman for the cause at all was an accident of fate. Even his own people were beginning to repudiate him before he died.
The overblown rhetoric of his speeches would have been laughed at in the mouth of the most respectable White preacher. ‘I have been to the mountaintop’ spoken seriously is such pompous nonsense that Whites should be ashamed of themselves for even pretending to revere such bull roar.
However King was the harbinger of the emerging Black Revolution. A Revolution which would do the inevitable of dividing Americans into a group of more or less autonomous peoples held loosely together by economics. Just as the Black gangs which coalesced from the riots of ’67 into an incipient form of Black government by the end of the century so these Mexicans flooding across the border could have a complete disregard for the United States that meant nothing more to them than hot Chevy cars, money and a more affluent style of living than was possible for them to create for themselves South of the Border down Mexico way. Heck, it was even bad form to call them Mexicans in the United States, their nationality being a form of insult to them on this side of the border; one had to call them ‘Hispanics.’ They might ridicule Americans and Gringos but they were nothing but a joke closely resembling the caricatures of themselves that appeared in US magazines and newspapers.
Now Dewey sat between two giggling Mexicans while the Shotgun sneered at him over the seat: ‘Hey may, we give you a ride you never forget.’
‘Oh yeah? I remember every kindness never done to me.’ Dewey replied sarcastically to show he was in control with a forced smile that he hoped looked fearless.
The car went down 99 about ten miles then the driver turned left towards the coast range onto a dirt road. The car began to lurch through the dusty fields.
‘Better let me out here. I’m going North.’
‘Hey, Gringo, you going where we want you to go. We let you out when we want to let you out, man. Only then and not before. Sabe? We goin’ to have some fun withchu. Whatchu think of this stinking America, man. I think it smells very bad, whatchu think?’
‘Seems to be good to you.’ Dewey returned feebly slowly putting both his hands in his pockets to disguise that he was reaching for his long thin Japanese pocket knife.
‘Good for us, man, you fool. What we doin’, we workin’ for the man plantin’ and harvestin’ his potatoes while he driving around in his El Dorado Cadillac. You call that good.’
‘I see what you mean. America does suck.’ Dewey agreed adding sotto voce: ‘…to allow dicks like you in this country.’
‘That uniform you wearing, man, it only makes you look stupid. Your Navy sucks, too, man.’
‘I agree with you wholeheartedly there ,man.’ Dewey said with true sincerity. ‘But I want out now.’
So saying he pulled his knife out flipping the loosely hinged blade out and clapping it to the throat of the driver.
‘Stop the car.’
The Mexicans had been taken by surprise as Dewey’s apparent resignation had implied no resistance. The driver didn’t think about it, he just brought the car to a smooth stop trying to avoid the potholes.
‘Open the door and let me out.’ Dewey told the Mex on his left.
Dewey reversed the blade drawing the blunt edge across the driver’s neck as a warning as he brought the point to bear on the Mex standing in the door. He backing up as Dewey pushed the knife forward as he got out.
‘Fuck Pancho Villa.’ Dewey snarled as he moved back toward the highway.
‘Puto.’ The Mex spat out.
‘Dildo.’ Dewey called over his shoulder.
Dewey didn’t know what puto meant and the Mexican didn’t know what dildo meant so they were even on that score.
Dewey thought they might try to run him down but they drove off through a cloud of dust.
The highway was a good mile and a half distant which was a long walk through what was now blazing heat in his heavy woolen blues. Dewey slowed his brisk walk into a leisurely stroll so as not to soak his uniform through giving him a heck of a stench.
White guilt prejudice prevented Dewey from correctly analyzing his encounter with the Mexicans. It was considered bad for Whites to see racial matters in their true light. Thus even though these Mexicans did not consider themselves Americans or have any respect for the country they sucked off, White prejudice required Dewey to dismiss the true situation from his mind replacing it with the fiction that these were oppressed people who had fled despotic conditions for a better life in an America Whites had created.
They were just grubbers who realized that Mexico would never amount to anything in the hands of Mexicans while the good life worth sponging off lay across the border with the despised Gringos.
Twenty minutes later Dewey was back by the side of the road warm but not sweating; He’d managed to walk in some style. The thermometer was edging over a hundred. The sun rays crashed down on him in unrelenting bombardment. Dewey’s mind began to drift.
There were many stories of aliens abducting people in their flying saucers at the time. While Dewey refused to believe them his disbelief was not so strong that he ruled out the possibility. He did watch the night sky for unidentified flying objects.
As he looked up into the dazzling blue glare he thought this might be a good time to be abducted. He was ready to volunteer. He could imagine a saucer hovering above him shooting down a ray of light separating his molecules into a vapor to beam him aboard.
‘They might even serve me some cosmic cookies and a glass of intergalactic mile.’ He was musing as a car slowed to a stop just ahead of him.
‘Ah, air conditioning.’ He smiled as he slid into the shotgun of a ’58 Buick Roadmaster. ‘Better than a flying saucer.’
‘Have you had an experience?’ Wally Reid, the driver, asked as he slipped back into traffic.
‘I’m heading for Oakland.’ Dewey said.
‘Uh huh. I’m going to Sacramento. Drop you off at the Manteca cutoff. How’s that?’
‘Couldn’t be better.’
‘What’s this about a flying saucer?’
‘Oh nothing. I was just fantasizing about being beamed up and given cookies and milk.’
‘Strange you should say that. That’s happened.’ Reid began taking the comment at face value. ‘My sister-in-law had a terrible experience with a flying saucer.’
‘Your sister-in-law was abducted?’ Dewey said in astonishment.
‘Word of honor. She wouldn’t lie to me or Chuck, my brother.’
‘No. What happened?’
‘This happened just a couple weeks ago. They kept her for two whole days. She was driving home from work, worked late, when a saucer zoomed over her and beamed her up like inside a giant flashlight beam, car and all.’
‘Oh yea. There were about fifteen of them. Zoomed back out into space. You should hear her description of what Earth looks like from out there. A big blue marble. They wanted to know how Earthlings have sex. So she says that for two days they worked her over. They poked and fondled and did her up. Felt her tits all over. She says they were really mystified by the nipples. She had to explain everything to them. They had this device they put in her mouth that translated everything she said into their language.
Once they understood how to put it in after she explained it to them she says each guy took a turn or two on her. They weren’t gentle either, probably because they didn’t have any experience with screwing Earth style.’
‘Jeez. What did they look like?’
‘Just like you’d expect. Green with these giant heads and bulging eyes. You know, like they don’t do any physical work, just cerebral stuff, so they’re all brain and no brawn, muscles just withered away, opposite of us.’ Wally said with unintended humor which was nevertheless caught by Trueman who suppressed a smile. ‘Skinny thin bodies and arms with long thin peckers, twice as long as ours but she says they felt like worms, you know, they could bend and twist like corkscrews. Kept at her for two whole days.’
‘Wow. Did they give her any cosmic cookies or intergalactic milk?’
‘No. They fed her with tubes. She’s still got some needle marks on the inside of her arms. Then after they finished with her they beamed her back down but they weren’t too careful about it either. They bashed the car up pretty bad. Bonnie didn’t look too good either.’
‘Well, they were aliens so I guess they did weird things. They chopped her hair up something terrible. They could have at least cut it off even but they cut it short in uneven lengths and cut clumps out here and there. Not only was her hair a mess but she was black and blue all over from the rough treatment plus those puncture marks on her arms.
Wasn’t all bad though.’
‘No? What was good?’
‘Heck, can you imagine what it will look like? This kid’s going to be a real freak, half human, half alien. Chuck and me figure our fortune is made. We’ll be able to exhibit it for millions. Everybody will want to see it, don’t you think? Wouldn’t you?’
‘I sure do. I’d like to see it I’m sure of that.’
Trueman and Reid chatted away merrily in this vein through Modesto to the Manteca cutoff.
‘So long, Dewey.’
‘So long, Wally. Thanks for the ride. Good luck with the alien baby.’
Dewey crossed the highway to take up a position on the cutoff. He got his thumb out and then broke down in laughter. It was good rich deep throated laughter, straight from the belly.
‘Those guys actually believe Bonnie’s going to have an alien baby. Ha ha. Cracked the car up when they carelessly beamed the car down. Ha ha ha. Boy, that Bonnie must have the gift of gab. Wonder what they’ll do when the alien baby looks just like some guy Bonnie knows.’
Dewey struggled to control his laughter as he got funny looks from a couple of drivers. He still had a big smile on his face when a ’56 Ford Fairlane with two men and two women motioned for him to hop in.
The back door opened so Dewey got in the back; safer when there was someone in the back seat anyway. If the Mexicans had made him get in the front Dewey might not have been able to control the situation.
‘You look as happy as though you’ve embraced the spirit of Jesus.’ John Ahrens, the driver, said in the sepulchral tones of the lay preacher.
That took the smile off Dewey’s face. The next largest group after the homos in the habit of picking up hitchhikers were the religious nuts. In a lot of ways they were worse and actually more dangerous than the homos.
Dewey forced a laugh out of his throat: ‘That too; but my last ride was telling me about how his sister-in-law was abducted by flying saucer aliens…’
‘That happened to her too.’ Susan Strable exclaimed from the front seat.
A smile flickered out on Dewey’s face. ‘Happened to you too, hey?’
‘No. But it happened to Jack.’ She said indicating Ahrens. ‘They flew away at tremendous speeds and took him to seventh heaven and he had a long talk with Jesus and Jesus sent him back to establish the true church of God.’
Four very serious, very critical sets of eyes fixed themselves on Dewey watching his reaction. Dewey sobered up immediately. This was no laughing matter; he was in with religious nuts.
‘I heard somebody else did that too. Let me think. Oh yeah, a while back a guy name Mohammed flew up to Seventh Heaven on a horse. I forget the horse’s name.’
‘In Greek it was Arion.’ Ahrens extolled who didn’t know the name of Mohammed’s horse either but rather than admit it resorted to a circumlocution that nobody could check or deny.
That had Dewey stumped since he couldn’t remember the Arab name he was in no position to question Ahren’s assertion. Ahrens was quick and plausible. He hadn’t flunked out of the seminary for nothing. He hadn’t so much as flunked out as been thrown out. His answers may have sounded plausible but they were invariably wrong. Nevertheless Ahrens would defend them with violence if necessary.
Rather than tolerate his madness he had been thrown out. He hadn’t taken that well either. He had been on his way back to the President’s office with a 12 gauge under his arm when he had been intercepted by the police. With the certitude of the righteous Ahrens had been marching down the middle of the street like Gary Cooper at high noon.
The Christian gentlemen of Mt. Larynx Theological Seminary declined to press charges on condition that Ahrens to far away and stay there. Oakland was some distance from St. Larynx.
‘But the Moslems are full of baloney.’ Susan Strable continued. ‘No horse can fly as fast as a flying saucer.’ Dewey nodded in agreement. ‘Besides Jesus told Jack that Mohammed was just a big fibber and wasn’t even there. At least he didn’t talk to Jesus.’
‘Oh well, Mohammed went to talk to a different god, Allah. Maybe Jesus was out to lunch at the time.’
‘There is only one god, the Moslems got that right, but his name isn’t Allah. The real name of God is too sacred to repeat to the profane so you’re not going to hear it from me. Suffice it to say, the truth resides in me.’ John Ahrens intoned majestically.
‘Boy, that’s for sure.’ Susan affirmed. ‘But Jack found out for sure that those athiests are all nasty liars. God isn’t dead. And the reason people can’t see heaven anymore now that we’ve had our own space things, sputniks or whatever, heaven is retreating from earth at one second less than the speed of light each year. So while it’s sure going to be hard to get there you can make it if you try.’
‘Amen, Susan.’ Ahrens said approvingly.
‘So now Jack’s the head and founder of the Intergalactic Church of Christ Immersed In The Extraterrestrial Blood. We’re going to be bigger than the Catholics and Billy Graham put together. What do you think of that?’
‘Where are you based?’
The car had exited the Manteca cutoff entering Highway 80 for the run across the Altamont. Dewey was beginning to get uncomfortable. the thought of any church being Immersed In Extraterrestrial Blood, whatever that was, threw the fear of God into him. Space traveler or not Dewey knew that the Intergalactic Church was rooted in the viciousness of Genesis as they all were. Judaism was the religion of blood.
‘Well, I certainly wish you luck in overtaking the Pope and Billy. I think you’ve got a long haul in front of you though.’
‘We were hoping you’d join us.’ Ahrens sort of commanded.
‘No-o-o. I’m in the Navy. Can’t do that.’
‘Why not? You must be based in the Bay Area. You’re returning now.’
It was getting to close to 5:00 PM on Saturday night so Ahrens wasn’t completely out of line in his surmise.
‘No. I’m from San Diego. Have to be back tomorrow.’
‘Humph.’ Ahrens ejaculated, thinking to himself that Dewey was a liar. ‘That’s not very probable. You may not even be in the Navy. I’ll bet you’re just using that uniform to make it easy to get rides.
‘You better come along.’ Susan said. ‘You don’t want to get Jack mad.’
‘I suppose not.’ Dewey sighed. ‘But, I’m not going along anyway. Let me out at the MacArthur overpass.’
‘I think he’s OK.’ The other man spoke confidentially to the back of Ahren’s head.
‘We’re not letting you out.’ Ahrens said with a nod. ‘You’re coming with us.’
‘Ooh.’ Susan cooed, seizing Dewey’s hand. ‘What an honor. They’re going to sacrifice you.’
‘Oh yeah? Right on. Just let me out.’
Susan’s head bobbed up and down affirmatively as she tucked her lower lip into her mouth. ‘Jesus needs blood to keep the world on its axis, he told Jack. So far we’ve only used the blood of the neighbor’s cats and dogs. But now we’re going to move up to people because dog and cat blood isn’t keeping the axis too steady.’
‘You let me out. Now! Or you’ve got big trouble Jack. Screw you and your Intergalactic Church.’
Ahrens cast an angry glance back at Dewey but the determined look on Dewey’s face made him think twice. He slammed on his brakes skidding up over the curb with a jolt: ‘You’ve got five seconds.’ He commanded.
Dewey didn’t waste any of them. If he hadn’t had to bend down to pick up his bag he would have made it. Ahrens squealed back on the highway throwing Dewey into the ivy. Dewey got up. He was half a mile from the MacArthur off ramp. He decided to walk it. Hitchhiking in what he now considered his hometown was repugnant to him so he walked down to 86th which was a considerable hike. By the time he reached Da Costa’s, Roque and McLean had already gone out for the night taking Terry with them.
Pete Da Costa refused admittance to the house. Not knowing what else to do Dewey sat down on the porch step to wait. Luck was with him. Roque came back to pick up an item Terry had forgotten.
‘What took you so long?’
‘I’ll tell you when we have the time.’
‘OK. Come on along.’
Da costa was none too happy with Trueman. He felt, quite reasonably that Trueman had attempted to use him throwing himself over for Torbrick. Trueman’s story was different and right also but it would have taken a demon judge to find for him.
Terry’s friends were throwing a party. Thus Trueman was introduced into a circle of high school seniors. It was there he met Louise Tricka. Louise was another who was drawn to the misfits. She liked Trueman a lot, possibly because she too was a square peg in a round hole.
But for tonight Dewey returned with Da Costa, McLean and Terry. McLean whose hatred for Trueman since Guam had grown not abated had moved into his place quietly defaming him to Da Costa. Terry had now cast her net for McLean but he wasn’t anymore interested than Trueman.
‘I don’t know how to tell you this Dewey, but my father doesn’t want you in the house.’
‘Yeah, he already told me, Roque, but I don’t have any place to stay. I could sleep in the car, couldn’t I?’
‘Yeah, I suppose you could do that.’
McLean snickered shrugging his shoulders with a broad smile.
Dewey who saw more sunrises than he cared to remember pulled himself erect with the rising sun. Unshaven and feeling grungy he sat glowering into the rear view mirror until McLean and Da Costa showed on the porch at 9:30.
Da Costa suggested they go down and look at the grocery store he worked at. Trueman didn’t care to meet anyone in his condition so he was all for it.
Under the law your employer had to guarantee a reservist his job when he was discharged so Roque was technically still employed by Lucky Stores as a check out clerk.
He worked for a nice store down in the Lake Grove district. Trueman and McLean were properly appreciative.
Considering that it had taken Trueman a full twenty-four hours to get to Oakland it might seem that he was overly optimistic in leaving for San Diego at 4:00 Sunday afternoon. In fact, if things didn’t go completely wrong there was just enough time to make it back, if not for reveille, at least for muster. Trueman cut it close but he always cut it as a hitchhiker.
Da Costa and Mclean had flown up so Trueman got Roque to drive him up to the Altamont from which he always commenced his return journey.
Yes, it’s the same Altamont Pass where the Rolling Stones had their disastrous concert which brought the psychedelic era to an end in 1969. The Pass is a low hill a few hundred feet high leading into the San Joaquin past Tracy into Stockton.
There was a certain amount of apprehension in Trueman’s mind. He was taking the word of someone he couldn’t remember that this was possible. At this point he wasn’t sure that he wasn’t crazy.
Life is full of delights…and subsequent disappointments. Dewey hadn’t been standing on the Altamont long before a green ’58 Plymouth pulled to a stop. The Plymouth hadn’t yet been nudged out of the low price race with Chevy and Ford but it was fading fast.
‘Goin’ to Anaheim.’ The driver Jake Rawlins said. ‘How far you goin’?’
Dewey’s heart leapt to this throat as his face broke out into a big smile; maybe there was a god in heaven after all.
‘Alright.’ Dewey chirped. ‘Luck is a lady tonight. I gotta get back to San Diego. Thanks for the ride.’
Dewey bounced against the back of the seat a couple times in delight. As Jake Accelerated to seventy per Dewey figured he’d be in Anaheim in at least six hours.
Jake was a real nice guy. Like most normal people he was only almost normal, not quite there. Unless you’re in an environment like the Navy which requires apparent rigid conformity everyone has their ways. Jake’s eccentricity was that he was an advocate of steam powered cars. In fact, he was an expert, a foremost world-wide authority on steam, so he said. He communicated with other experts on steam power in autos all over the world, especially in Australia.
The rest of society wasn’t too interested in steam as compared to the internal combustion gasoline engine so Jake was used to a lot of ridicule. But like all compulsives he had to talk about his fetish.
Dewey would have laughed but as he was getting a plum of a ride for free, you could tell Jake wasn’t going to ask for anything but an audience, he displayed reasonably good manners.
‘Well.’ Dewey said amiably. ‘Alright. So why does your Plymouth have an internal combustion engine?’
Jake was coughing around an answer about corresponding with his contact in Australia about a particularly difficult problem when he spotted another hitchhiker. It was a Second Class Gunner’s Mate with three hashmarks on his sleeve.
‘Career man.’ Dewey thought. ‘All those guys are pricks.’
‘You’ll be sorry if you pick him up.’ Dewey objected. ‘All those career guys are arrogant.’
But nice guys always trip over their own nicety; it goes with the territory. Jake pulled over. Dewey tried to get out to let Lee Nelson, the Gunner’s Mate, into the middle but Nelson really wanted the end, he kept pushing Dewey back in. Unable to win that way Dewey said: ‘I’ll get in the back.’
‘No.’ Jake said. ‘Stay in front.’
Dewey groaned to himself at Nelson’s triumphant smile. He knew there was trouble ahead but he just didn’t know what.
Nelson turned out to be just as arrogant as Dewey expected. As Jake continued to rattle on about steam power Nelson guffawed at the very notion of steam power ever becoming popular. There was no question that he was right but he was betraying Rawlins’ generosity. As Rawlins continued on in his dotty way Nelson began to become abusive. You never knew when one of these guys might explode.
‘Hey, man, be a little more polite. You’re riding for free.’ Trueman exhorted.
‘You don’t believe this dipshit and his steam power crap do you, you simp?’
Dewey was thrown on his most tactful approach: ‘Steam powered cars are an accomplished fact. The Stanley Steamer is a very famous car. Everything he says about steam is a fact. Who knows but they may be able to replace the internal combustion engine with steam if it’s improved.’
‘You don’t really believe steam is going to replace gas?’
‘Perhaps not in my lifetime but I say that it’s an open question that Jake knows a lot more about than you or me.’
‘Shee, you’re as dotty as he is.’
Nelson at least shut up saying nothing further. Jake and Dewey carried on the conversation or, rather, Jake rattled away.
Jake was no slouch behind an internal combustion engine. He sped through the turns of the cutoff slowing down to pass through Modesto. Modesto was the story of the law in America, the triumph of pragmatism. The posted speed limit was twenty-five. But in order to facilitate passage through town signs proclaimed that the stop lights were timed for thirty-two miles an hour so you were encouraged to speed through town to catch all the lights. Good laughs were had over that one.
Outside Modesto Jake really barreled. He kept the plunger in for ninety per. The old Plymouth was barely making contact with the road.
Ninety-nine was not a freeway but a limited access highway. That meant that there were periodic crossings. The wide meridian made it difficult for drivers to dart across; you needed a little space to make it.
Just North of Fresno there was a dangerous crossing. There were no lights and as the East side of the highway was about ten feet higher a car’s headlights shone down rather than across the highway. The crossing was one of the most dangerous spots on the highway.
About a mile away Dewey, whose night and distance vision was exceptional spotted an old double front ended Studebaker sitting on the meridian sloping down from the Northbound lane. Call it deja vu, call it paranoia, call it prescience but the driver’s obvious indecision made it clear that trouble lay ahead.
‘Watch that guy up there, Jake. Watch that guy, change lanes, slow down, this guy’s dangerous.’
Nelson was one of those loud mouthed First Division jerks: ‘Aw, for Christ’s sake, relax.’ He said outshouting Dewey. It was one of those times when all the world seemed to conspire against one’s better judgement.
The Studebaker just sat there like a spider waiting for the fly. Then about a third of a mile away it seemed that the driver just took his foot off the brake and slowly coasted out into the fast lane. If Dewey had gotten Jake to change lanes they would have missed him. A quarter mile away Jake jammed his foot on the brake. The Plymouth which now would never know steam turned into a rocket sled but it slid straight down the highway.
‘Goddamn you, Nelson.’ Dewey shouted as the distance closed. By that Dewey meant that if it hadn’t been for picking up Nelson they would have been beyond the crossing by then and Dewey wouldn’t be stuck in the middle with nothing to hold on to, nor would he have been crazy enough to needle a very excitable driver. Dewey laid off the whole blame on Nelson although Nelson was too stupid and self-centered to understand his complicity.
Dewey saw certain death before him. He went limp as a ragdoll and hoped for the best but he saw his broken crushed body on the highway. The Plymouth slid into the Studebaker at seventy per midway between the bumper and the cab.
The collision drove the Studebaker fifty feet down the highway where it sat in the middle of the fast lane pointing South. The Plymouth was totaled. Dewey bounced around the seat, first against Jake, then his head caromed off the windshield which miraculously didn’t break, then he slammed against Nelson finally sprawled over both.
Incredibly no one was hurt. Dewey sat quietly panting. He reached up to touch his head where it banged into the windshield. He didn’t even have a bruise.
The driver of the Studebaker, an old man of ninety years paced the highway between the two cars dazed, a trickle of blood oozing down from his left temple.
‘Look at that old fart.’ Jake cried. ‘He probably isn’t anymore dazed now than he was before. You guys are going to stick around to give a police statement for me, aren’t you?’
Nelson already had his thumb out.
‘Give the police your own statement you dumb son-of-a-bitch. All you had to do was change lanes to avoid the accident. That’s what I’ll tell the police.’
Incredibly enough a car screeched to a halt between the wreckage and the roadside to give Nelson a ride. Nelson was either generous enough or guilty enough to motion Dewey to get in but Dewey wasn’t about to ride the middle with Nelson again. He was shaken up enough to feel bad. He passed.
The two thirty year old men who had been in the Studebaker with the ninety year old driver rushed up to Jake demanding his insurance agent. The accident was nothing less than an insurance scam. It had been planned that way.
The police were slow in arriving.
‘Hey Jake, I really gotta go or I’m going to miss muster.’ If Dewey had been thinking flexibly, as Van Wye would have done, he would have had himself taken to the hospital, phoned in and had himself a couple days off.
‘No, wait. You’ve got to give me a statement.’
As he was pleading the CHP drove up.
Dewey wrote a statement which the CWB didn’t seem to care about snickering like something was going on and he knew what it was. Dewey flipped his statement to him then stuck out his thumb.
Luck, as it were, was still with him, a Ford truck pulled over. Dewey leaped in. After the obligatory explanation of what had had happened the driver introduced himself.
‘Hi, podna, I’m Clint Hartung, known as the Hondo Hurricane. I’m originally from Hondo, Texas. How far you goin’?’
Dewey eyed Clint over. Clint was a big man, maybe six-four or six-five, built like the proverbial brick outhouse. Gentle looking though. He was dressed in some sort of quasi-western fashion. A big hat, buckskin jacket with fringes, even before the mid to late sixties. Kind of a checkered cowboy shirt with pearl buttons and black Can’t Bust ‘Ems over engineer boots. Dewey figured he was going to be stranger than Jake which he was but in a good kind of way.
Just by way of making conversation Clint started talking movies. He was a big Western fan which came as no surprise. Matt Dillon ran through Dewey’s mind as he looked at Clint and listened to him speak. He had that slow deliberate way of talking that is supposed to indicate no-nonsense manhood. Pretty good job too.
As might be expected John Wayne was Clint’s hero.
‘Really, John Wayne, hmm?’ Dewey mused.
‘Sure, he’s the greatest living American. You don’t think so?’
‘Wayne? Hmm. Well I thought you resembled say James Arness,Matt Dillon, more or maybe the wagon master, Ward Bond, more along those lines rather than Wayne.’
Clint was flattered at the comparison, especially the Arness bit as that was a major part of the persona he had adopted.
‘Yeah, those guys are good but John Wayne he just captures the essence of what an American is don’t you think?’
Dewey didn’t like John Wayne at all even though he was the number one male hero for nearly every man in America. But, he was used to giving his opinion when asked for it.
‘Well, I’m not a big fan of Wayne. Seen him in lots of movies of course but he always comes across to me like a card board cut out. It not so much that he portrays the idea of a man but imitates it. He doesn’t seem natural. They try to make him too big putting him on small horses so that his feet drag and give him that small rifle that looks like a toy gun in his hand. Like in Hondo, speaking of the Hondo Hurricane, he seems to be too much bigger than life to be real.’ Dewey almost said that Wayne appeared to him as a fag but then thought better of accusing the guy considered the most manly man in America of being gay. Still the guy could have played himself in the Village People with that mincing hip twisting walk. Especially the one he used in Hondo.
‘Yeah, I liked Hondo a lot better than Shane although Shane was another good book ruined by the movie.’
‘I thought Audie Murphy made a good Shane.’
‘I thought maybe that was Alan Ladd rather than Audie Murphy.’
‘Um, yeah, I guess you’re right. For me he was too jumpy, nervous and in drawn. I though Shane was a lot more confident than that. Besides that bit at the end when he rode off wounded into the sunset and the kid calls out ‘Mom wants you, Shane, Dad wants you and I want you too.’ was too much. I nearly laughed myself to death. Hondo was the real thing. Louis L’Amour could turn out to be a heck of a writer. I read a couple other of his things but they weren’t anywhere near Hondo.’
‘Well, I really like your tastes in literature but I’m not too sure of your interpretation.’ Clint replied ponderously. The guy was like an elephant walking off a heavy dinner.
‘By the way, I’m Dewey Trueman. Uh, The Michigan Kid.’ Dewey said in a lame attempt to match the Hondo Hurricane. ‘How far are you going?’
‘I’m on my way to Superstition Mountain. Ever heard of that?’
‘Oh yeah. Sure. Of course. Dutchman’s gold. there’s supposed to be a lost gold mine. Flying Dutchman or something like that. Guy had it, went down the mountain and couldn’t find it again, right?’
‘That’s close, Kid. I’m a goldminer. Got my sluice and pans in back.’
‘Right. Where are your claims and mines.’
‘I don’t mine properly speaking. I pan for it or set up my sluice and wash the gravel. I been up on 49 around Placerville working the streams around there.’
‘I thought that was all played out.’
‘Sure ain’t like it was in forty-nine but you never know when you might find a crack or crevice that’s loaded. No luck of that kind yet but I’m always hopin’.’
Why do you do it if you don’t find gold?’
‘Oh, I find plenty of gold, just not a big cache yet.’ Clint groaned out like a Henry Kissinger in slow motion. He produced a prescription plastic container half filled with gold.
‘That’s gold.’ He said with satisfaction flipping it to Dewey. Dewey looked at the sand and small nuggets with fascination. He was disappointed. Somehow he expected ‘gold’ to be more. This may have been gold alright but without the capital G. It was just sort of gold and not a lot of it.
‘How long did it take you to pan this out?’
‘That’s about three-four weekends worth.’
‘Where did it come from?’
‘That’s from up on the Tuolmne but I’ve been everywhere for gold. Alaska, the Yukon, haven’t been to the Australian fields yet but I’m on my to Superstition Mountain now.’
Dewey was so impressed with the Hondo Hurricane that he dropped his usual sarcastic manner.
‘Wow, this old pickup really flies along I wouldn’t think it could go so fast for so long.’
‘My old Ford here? I put a ’58 Chevy V8 in it. Now it’s an all American car. Best both Ford and Chevy have to offer. Never know when you’ll need the power when you’re a gold prospector. Lot of claim jumpers out there and of course you never know when you’re trespassin’ on someone else’s claim until it’s too late.’
Dewey laughed merrily as the eclectic Ford-Chevy truck raced the moon across the Grapevine through the starry starry night.
Dewey had assumed that Clint would be passing through San Diego on his way to Superstition Mountain so he was both surprised and disappointed when Clint Hartung pulled over to the side to let him out.
‘I take the Lancaster turn off here and take the desert route from here, Kid. You’re welcome to come along if you like but I hate big cities, always avoid ’em when I can.’
‘Well, I think I’m better off where there’s lots of traffic so I have to stay on this road. Thanks for the ride Hondo, and good luck on Superstition Mountain.’
Clint was flattered to be called Hondo. He gave the Kid, er…Dewey, a desert hat salute and roared off honking his horn a couple times in acknowledgment of Dewey’s compliment. Needless to say he didn’t have any luck on Superstition Mountain or anywhere else gold might be found but he lived the kind of life so many men only dream about. Maybe he’s updated his old Ford truck with a newer engine by now and is still out there gunning the engine for the vanishing point. I sure hope so.
One uneventful ride dropped Dewey off at the head of Lankersheim Blvd. Cruising was still in progress on Sunday night. Dewey had made good time notwithstanding the wreck on the highway. At midnight the cruisers had thinned out but were still plentiful. Three fruits and two fundamentalists brought Dewey to the on ramp of the Hollywood Freeway which was the way he ought to have come if the Marine, Bill Baird, hadn’t driven him astray.
A red and white ’56 Chevy pulled over for him.
‘Going back to the base, I suppose.’ the driver, Al Pscholka mused.
‘Where might that be, if I might be so rude to ask?’
‘I’m based in San Diego. How far are you going?’
‘I could be going not too far; or, on the other hand, I could drop you off at the gate in San Diego. The choice is yours.’
‘O-o-oh. No kidding.’ Dewey replied grasping the situation.
Acquiring the rudiments of the road doesn’t require long and patient study, especially as your attention is so concentrated. Dewey was also grasping the concept of keeping them talking as long as possible without getting to the point.
‘You must be a traveling salesman or something.’ He volunteered.
‘No. I’m an accountant. I add up figures. I know the score.’ Pscholka said with knowing double entendre.
He was a good looking fellow of about six-two, slender but muscular. There was a vicious mean spirited look to him. His shame at his homosexuality made him fairly brutal toward his conquests. Otherwise he had a mean derogatory attitude.
‘Accounting huh? That must be interesting.’
‘Cut the crap. You know what I want.’
‘Who me? No, I’m not sure I do.’
‘You going to give it up or not?’
‘I’m not queer if that’s what you mean.’
‘I don’t care if you’re queer or not. I am. What I’m saying is we can go somewhere and have a good time and I’ll get you back to the base for muster or you can take your chances on the highway.’
‘Pull over and let me out then.’
‘Did you hear what I said?’
‘Only too well. Did you hear what I said?’
At this time they were going through the Stack. There is a hill in LA where five freeways are stacked one above the other. This is a very impressive sight. Dewey was trying to take it in with awestruck eyes while still trying to deal with Al Pscholka.
Pscholka started to edge over when a light went on behind his eyes. ‘It wouldn’t be right to let you out here just because you won’t suck my dick. I’m a nicer guy than that. I’ll take you to a better place.’
‘If it’s a question of right or wrong, in my opinion it would be right to let me out here. I don’t want to inconvenience you any further.’
‘No inconvenience, buddy. Sit tight.’
At seventy per Dewey had no choice but to sit tight. At this point he thought that Pscholka was going to drive him off somewhere that he would have no idea where he was or how to get back. Pscholka didn’t seem to be carrying a weapon so Dewey had full confidence in his Japanese pocket knife.
But Pscholka was both much more devious and malicious, devious, malicious and knowledgeable at that. He haunted these roads every Sunday night. Since he actually would drop sailors off at the gate his shtick had enough appeal to be successful quite often.
Still, Dewey was astonished when he made the turn down to Anaheim and kept on going toward the Disney towers. Somewhere along the way Dewey began to notice a very long line of sailors. Miles of them spaced one to a hundred feet. Dark blue blobs with white hats topmost merging with the night under the streetlights.
‘God, how are they all going to get rides?’ Dewey mused out loud.
‘Yes. How are they?’ Pscholka laughed quietly pulling over to let Dewey out. ‘Last chance. This or the gate?’ He leered.
Dewey got out.
He looked to the right horizon to see hundreds of sailors strung out as far as the eye could see. He looked to the left to see the same sight. He looked at the sailor in front of him with a quizzical look on his face.
‘I know, man. Just walk down the highway between me and the next guy and put your thumb out.’
Dewey walked down and stepped in line. As he did so the sailor on either side stepped away until they were about one hundred feet apart. Those adjacent to them did the same until a giant wave effect rippled through the line of sailors for miles and miles. This happened repeatedly for the two hours Dewey was there. As a sailor dropped off the ripple kept eddying back and forth. Dewey moved to and fro as though tossed by an invisible current.
Trueman lost all anxiety as he pondered the situation. It seemed hopeless. There didn’t seem to be enough cars on the road to accommodate this portion of the fleet let alone drivers to pick them up. There wasn’t even any reason to put your thumb out.
‘Probably if you do get picked up.’ He thought. ‘It will be another queer trying to cut a deal or else.’
He watched the cars pass with drooping spirits. Suddenly a car traveling the fast lane at a terrific clip caught everyone’s attention from a mile away. It was a red and white ’55 Chevy. While everyone had their attention riveted on the car the driver whipped almost at a right turn across all three lanes of traffic to screech to a stop in front of Dewey Trueman.
Dewey was astonished beyond belief as adjacent sailors looked in envy. ‘Why me?’ Dewey thought. ‘What signals am I transmitting, what criteria were those guys using to select me?’
The door flew open. ‘Hop in.’ Said the guy in the passenger’s seat getting out. ‘Ride the middle.’
It was a messy car. The back seat was jammed with clothes and household goods. A Louisville Slugger lay conspicuously in the space between the front and back seats atop some junk with the brand name up. Dewey looked across at the driver. Both guys were lean and wiry, probably not queer, but either high or jacked up on some emotion. They were obviously out joy riding. Dewey tried to opt out.
‘Hey, thanks for stopping guys but I think I’ll pass. Wait for something else. Thanks anyway.’
‘Aw, hey now, man, you definitely do not want to hurt our feelings.’
Dewey followed his gaze down to the Louisville Slugger. He looked behind him out across the plowed fields that would be houses the next time he passed by. He wasn’t a fast runner anyway. The guy could bring him down from behind with the baseball bat as he ran.
‘Well.’ Thought Dewey. ‘Maybe I can talk faster than they can.’
‘Hurt your feelings? Aw, no man, I didn’t realize it was like that. But, hey, since I’ll be getting out first why don’t I sit on the outside? Save you some trouble down the road.’
‘No, I’m athletic. Get in the middle.’
Dewey slid in. The door slammed shut; the driver accelerated to the fast lane. The driver, Dave, who did not introduce himself, got right to the point.
‘We need your opinion, man. I got a real difficult situation here.’
Dewey didn’t like the depth of that quagmire. ‘Oh yeah? My opinion wouldn’t be worth much. Gee, I just turned twenty. I don’t have much experience at all.’
‘You got enough for me, man. Here’s the problem.’
All the time Dave spoke the car was going eighty miles an hour. The seemingly endless line of sailors to the right ebbed and flowed and danced to the right and left like some giant conga line. The phenomenon was surely one of the most spectacular sights the world had to offer. By daylight all those sailors would be gone. Nearly all of them would make it back in time for muster. This phenomenon happened every single Sunday night for those who had eyes to see and the intellect to understand.
‘Ya see, it’s like this. I used to be married to this woman, beautiful woman, high school sweetheart. We were very happy but I wasn’t making much money. Then this guy comes along. A coal miner.’
‘Coal miner? In LA?’
‘Yeah. So this guy is making a lot of money; coal miners get paid real good.’
‘Sure. They gotta work underground where the coal is which is real dangerous work. You wouldn’t do it for the minimum wage would you?’
‘I wouldn’t do it for a lot of money but there aren’t any coal mines in LA.’
‘Shut up and listen. So my high school sweetheart and wife falls for this guy’s bucks. That’s all she could see was his money, divorces me and goes to him. This was a couple years ago. So I become very distraught. I don’t know what to do, so I join the Army. While I am in the Army now I meet this very wonderful girl who loves me only for myself, she doesn’t care whether I have money or not. I married her last month.’
‘Where is there an Army base in LA?’
‘There is one. I’m stationed there, OK? I know. Now shut up and listen. So right after I marry my present wife there is a terrible cave in at the mine and my wife’s new husband is killed.’
‘Boy, I never heard about that. Where are those coal mines in LA?’
‘Listen, they have steel mills in LA, don’t they?’
‘Maybe. OK.’ Dewey didn’t know but they did.
‘Well, you need coal to make steel don’t you?’
‘Coke.’ Dewey corrected.
‘Yah. Coke. You coke the coal and use the coke. It burns hotter.’
‘What, are you a wise guy? So you coke the coal, the point is you need coal to make steel, don’t you. So where there’s steel mills there must be coal mines. Get it?’
‘Boy.’ Thought Dewey. ‘There’s a stretch in logic.’ But it wasn’t his car and he was in the middle.
‘So the mine roof drops on this guy’s melon and he’s got accidental double indemnity life insurance for twenty-five thousand dollars. So now my ex is got twenty-five thousand dollars and no husband to spend it with. So now after I’m married to my current wife my ex wants me to come back to her and the twenty-five grand. What would you do?’
So this was the trick. Dewey thought that if he answered one way they would beat him to death with the baseball bat; if he answered the other way they might let him go. He wasn’t sure what kind of guys they were. Dave sounded like he was more interested in the twenty-five Gs than in a good woman but it could be a trick.
‘Gosh.’ Dewey tried to equivocate. ‘That’s a tough one; I don’t know how to call it.’
‘Call it anyway. I gotta know because whatever you say determines what I will do.’
That was what worried Dewey.
He looked right at Dave’s partner, Jack, who was looking at him expectantly, then back at Dave who was urgently demanding an answer.
Dewey desperately wanted to give the right answer but he was having a hard time reading Dave.
‘Funny I didn’t hear about this coal mine cave in.’ He countered. ‘You think it would have been on the news.’
‘Forget the cave in; you were out at sea. It happened. Give me your decision.’
Dewey grasped that how he answered would determine how he was to be disposed of. Unable to read Dave he decided to go with his own morality and trust to his luck.
‘Umm. I’d stay with your current wife who loves you for what you are, whatever that may be, and is true to you even in the Army which is really saying something.’
‘Really? Yeah, but my ex is a better looker. Lots better than my current wife.’
‘Well, looks are transient and only skin deep. Fidelity is worth lots more.’
‘Sure. But what about the twenty-five thousand dollars? That’s a lot of money.’
Dewey could nearly count the number of twenty dollar bills he’d seen in his life. If you laid them all out in a row they wouldn’t reach across the dash board. He had no concept of money but even in the late fifties it was becoming common to speak in terms of millions of dollars so 25,000 didn’t sound like much, except maybe to a banker calling a loan. Dewey could see himself spending it in no time.
‘Well, she’s left you once for money and twenty-five thousand won’t last long. Once it’s gone she’ll probably leave you again. This is Hollywood. There’s lots of guys with lots of money, lot more than twenty-five thousand. If she’s that good looking she’s liable to get some taste and get one of those.’
The unconscious insult slipped past Dave.
‘Say, you know, I think you’re right. You’ve helped out a lot. I think I’ll stay with my current wife.’ So saying Dave whipped over to the side of the road, shoved Dewey out and sped off.
‘Wow. That was a close one.’ Thought Dewey. ‘I thought I was going to die for sure. Coal mines in LA!’
Dave had dropped him off way at the end of the line of sailors just where 101 jogged off the freeway through San Juan Capistrano. A couple of disconsolate sailors were standing in front of the rich black loam of the plowed fields. They were soon picked up leaving Dewey alone. His anxiety increased as it was getting late.
A car pulled over.
‘Listen, I’ve been driving all day and I’m bushed. If you can drive and let me sleep, OK. Otherwise no ride.’
‘Of course I can drive.’ Dewey said who had only been behind the wheel once in his life.
‘Do you have a license.’
‘Are you kidding? I’ve been around cars all my life.’ Dewey said, artfully avoiding lieing.
‘OK. But I’m really tired and need to sleep. Get in on the driver’s side.’
Dewey ran over to the driver’s side and hopped in. As he got behind the wheel he realized that he was somewhat hazy about shifting. Fortunately the car was an automatic.
‘Do you usually drive your car in D1 or D2.’ He asked what he hoped would be taken as a polite question and not a betrayal of his ignorance.
‘I put it in Drive, of course. Say, do you really have a license?’
‘Does Carter have little liver pills?’ Dewey slipped it into D1 and lurched off.
‘You can go to sleep now.’ He announced.
‘I’m going to watch you a little, make sure you know how to drive first.’ But he drifted off to sleep immediately.
The night was very dark. Dewey was driving very tentatively. He didn’t always see the Stop signs in San Juan in time to stop, driving through them. There were no other cars on the road so that didn’t matter. Past San Juan he was driving very tentatively, barely fifty miles an hours. He was not only timid himself but emotionally exhausted by a most adventurous trip thus he wandered over onto the shoulder for a moment. The driver awakened immediately.
‘Jesus Christ! What’s happening?’
‘Nothing. I just ran over a narrow part of the road.’
‘Narrow part of the road! Say, you don’t have a license do you?’
‘I know how to drive. They just didn’t make this part of the road very wide, that’s all.’
‘Answer my question directly. Do you have a driver’s license?’
‘Not today. I’m going to get one tomorrow.’
‘Just what I thought. Stop the car. Get out.’
‘Wait a minute. I can at least talk to you to keep you awake. C’mon, give me a ride into San Diego.’ Dewey said stopping the car.
‘Nobody rides for free. Can’t drive, can’t ride. Get out.’
The driver drove off in a frenzy leaving Dewey in the dark by the side of the road at four in the morning but it was really tight now.
Rosy fingered dawn shone faintly on the horizon before he caught another ride. He lamented his situation to the driver who was decent and sympathetic.
‘I’ll get you back in time. It’s going to be close but I was in the service myself. I know how it is.’
The man did drop Dewey off at the gate. Dewey gave him a heartfelt thanks. Past the gate he broke into a run then raced back to the ship. They were just about to call roll with Dewey stepped into line in full dress blues.
‘You’re late, Trueman.’ Dieter glowered.
‘Whadya mean I’m late, Chief? You called Trueman and I said yo. Sounds like I’m here to me, I can hear myself talking to you, doesn’t it sound like I’m here to you? I’m talking to ya.’
‘Wise ass. Don’t push your luck with me. You’re not in dungarees. You work in that uniform and you go over the side to paint the fo’c’sle. Get moving.’
Dewey wasn’t happy about that trying to find a way around it. On the fo’c’sle he took off his middie folding it up on deck in what he hoped was a secure place. There was nothing he could do with his pants but he hoped to dink around all morning so he wouldn’t get paint on them.
Dieter showed up on the fo’c’sle to torment him followed by Blaise Pardon.
‘You’re out of uniform, Trueman. Put that middie back on.’
‘Go down and change, Trueman.’ Pardon countermanded.
Dieter gave him a dirty look but let the matter slide walking aft. That was one the reason the old salts had no use for Pardon; he was too reasonable.
Dazed And Confused
Life moved along at a pace that was beyond bewildering. There was no time to ingest the stream of happenings let alone digest their significance. Dewey experienced life like a leaf blown by a storm, every touch down was too brief and fleeting to leave a sense of meaning. Whatever understanding he had took place on the subliminal level. He was way too busy just staying alive; catching his breath was out of the question.
His nervous excitement was such that he was unaware that he wasn’t even getting enough sleep. On the weekends he got no more than six hours. During the week he got not much more.
His agony was such that he preferred to be away from the Navy as much as possible at whatever cost. Two weekends a month was not enough; he wanted all four. The only chance he had to do this was to find a stand-in. In this he was in luck. The ET who replaced Dart Craddock was called Corey Wells. His situation was that he wanted liberty on all weekdays while the weekends meant nothing to him. He was willing to swap the one for the other.
The two sailors were brought together and an agreement was struck. The question remained whether both men would honor the terms. Even on such a small ship as the Teufelsdreck where one would think it rash to incur enmity the men betrayed each other without a second thought. No one seemed to worry about their reputation.
It was always possible that either man would refuse to honor his obligation. If that happened the other was AWOL and not available for his watch. Thus, initially at least, it was necessary for Trueman to have a backup. Trueman took Wells’ duty first so Wells had a friend in reserve which proved unnecessary as Trueman always kept his word. Trueman, whose friends were all leaving for the same weekend, agreed to pay Laddybuck two dollars a day to stand his watches in addition to Laddybuck’s own, who had duty, if Wells defaulted. Trueman and Wells were grateful to find someone who was honest and whose needs were complementary. Thus Trueman had every weekend free for the next several months.
Kanary tried to interfere by shifting watch times but he found he was messing with more than Trueman being compelled thereby to keep his hands off.
Trueman’s other problem was eating. Navy food as prepared by Bocuse was intolerable to him. He could eat only one out of three breakfasts so he filled up on toast. Lunches were tolerable but the soggy green beans that accompanied every other dinner meant that he ate sparingly. On the weekends he ate little if at all. Needless to say a toothpick cast a bigger shadow than he did.
Nervous excitement masked any sleep or nutritional defects Trueman might have had. He had a strong consititution. However the general trend of events was very unsettling to his mind. The question of who had tried to commit him to the mental institution was worrisome. That Tory Torbrick was the agent of someone was obvious but it seemed impossible that the Navy should have assigned him to the Teufelsdreck with that object in mind and he had known who Dewey was when he came aboard.
Without knowledge of Yisraeli Trueman was mystified. He indirectly associated the attempt with Kanary from whom he felt the pressure of discrimination but he could assign no cause. He ruled out Captain Ratches and he refused to give Dieter the credit of enough intelligence to conceive or execute such a plan.
However his suspicions seemed confirmed during the year’s K-gun exercizes. On the day the U.S. Marines went ashore in Lebanon the squadron took to sea to further the Navy’s apparent attempt to rid the sea of tuna fish or any other living matter.
First Division gathered around the Depth Charge racks and K-guns to perpetuate their skill at sowing the seas with high explosives. Trueman took his former position at the second starboard mortar. Dieter stood looking at him as the bile rose to his face to give him that liverish complexion.
His mind roved longingly back to his attempted entombment of Trueman in the Depth Charge locker. Snarling inwardly he ordered Trueman to go below during the exercizes. Trueman was in no position to debate or disobey so he stepped down the after hatch to First.
Dieter walked over and dropped the hatch on him. As Trueman sat alone in the compartment his ubiquitous nemesis the queer Kanary dogged down the port hatch then crossing over to starboard, glowering menacingly as though he were actually executing Trueman, he dogged the starboard hatch.
The fantastic Dieter having failed to destroy Trueman in the Depth Charge locker now dreamed that he was blowing Trueman up in First. The aft charges were exploded with little more than a distant rumble. But then the K-gun charges fired to the side began to report. The first charges were deep but you could still hear the displaced water rushing up to the side of the ship followed by a dull thud as the pressure hit the side.
The mad Bos’n’s Mate was nearly insane with rage at Trueman’s lack of reverence or interest in his exploits as the Hero of Saipan. As the exercise progressed the charges were set for shallower and shallower depths. The thuds became clangs as the displaced water crashed against the hull followed by the plate rattling concussion.
Becoming more enraged as the charges become shallower Dieter ordered the next at sixty feet down two hundred feet out. The force increased considerably. The plates not only clanged but rattled as the sound reverberted up and down the hull. The force rocked the ship a little but it didn’t heave out of the water as it had the previous year.
Dieter slipped into another world. He was about to order the next charge at the shallowest and closest in. The charge at that speed,depth and distance might have burst the plates. Dieter was so far gone in his chagrin as to sink his ship in an attempt to trap Trueman below. From Saipan to sinking his own ship.
However the last charge had brought the Captain to his feet. Standing in the starboard lookout with his glasses trained on Dieter he had the bridge talker call Dieter to the phone.
‘That’s enough for today, Chief. Pack it in and clean it up.’
‘Yes, Sir.’ Dieter replied as his mind slowly returned from its nether regions.
The sailors who had it figured out blew out a sigh of relief. The Mad Chief was derailed from committing a crime of the first magnitude.
The after hatch was propped up as the Gunner’s came down to replenish their Depth Charges. Dieter followed them down to gaze first lovingly into the hold he had wanted to place his nemesis and then over at Trueman as though he wished him there.
Trueman did not consciously process the information entering his brain. It went directly into his subconscious where it worked like yeast in bread. He had a little over a year to go; he knew he must be very wary.
His mental malaise was exacerbated by the subsequent discharge of the men of low I.Q. As in Guam over fifty men left the ship at one time. They received their orders on the same day streaming off the Teufelsdreck at a happy gallop. As Trueman looked at Dieter he thought ruefully that the fat mad Chief should join them. Trueman was wrong though, Dieter wasn’t that dumb he was the proud possessor of a score of thirty-three.
As the ship had never been fully replenished after Guam in addition to the departure of the Black sailors the crew was very depleted. First was nearly half empty as a couple dozen bunks were left unused. Trueman who had been spitefully moved from his favorite bunk to a middle bunk in the starboard center tier now took the opportunity to move back to his former bunk announcing that anyone who didn’t like it could kiss his ass. As no dissenting voices were raised it may be assumed that all were unpleased with the opportunity to kiss Trueman’s ass.
The pleasure of the unwonted roominess was destroyed as the replacements began to come aboard. The amazing thing was that the low I.Q. sailors had been the most objectionable men on board. However the replacements, if of a higher I.Q., were even worse but in different ways.
These were all men of the high school class of ’57. Now it is a fact that the class of ’56 had the highest ever scores on the scholastic aptitude tests. Beginning in ’57 the scores began a long decline that to my knowledge hasn’t ended yet.
The causes of the decline in the way of society are debated with no results but it must be true that years subsequent to ’56 did not digest the material if they received it.
This fact was evident to the perplexed members of the crew. The new men’s reactions to Navy discipline were even more deplorable than those arriving with Dewey. The new men even made Frenchey seem like a stellar performer. Frenchey had always gone through the paces but the new men refused even to do that. Worse, they even seemed incapable.
The class of ’56 seemed to be different than earlier years but intermediate between those and subsequent years. Somehow they were neither of the Depression mentality or the Affluent mentality. They were neither as solemn and dutiful as the earlier years nor as flighty and irresponsible as the subsequent years.
The education and expectations of the younger men seemed entirely different from what had gone before.
The difference of a single year had changed their expectation toward affluence. Born in ’39 they had come to an age of awareness in the post-war years. Too young to have a memory of the Depression or War years they knew only the boom years of the late forties and fifties.
Having begun high school in ’55 and ’56 they were all of the Rock and Roll generation. The class of ’55 had missed the Rock and Roll influence completely. In that respect their tastes were those of the preceding generation. The class of ’56 had been mixed in its influence. Half had rejected Rock and Roll completely while a quarter accepted it as part of what was happening; another quarter, to which Dewey belonged, had embraced the music wholeheartedly. Still, Dewey had little in common with the new men on that score.
In addition the new men, while not of the TV generation, had grown up with it during their teen years thus identifying completely with the tube while Dewey had only known TV for about three years before leaving high school. It is to be assumed that the classes before ’56 had less TV time than that or none. So that while the new men had been absorbed into the TV phenomenon, earlier men saw TV as a phenomenon not part of their psychic organization.
Howdy Doody, Kukla Fran and Ollie and the Mickey Mouse Club were alien to the older men. The importance of the Mickey Mouse Club especially should not be under estimated. The World War II vets like Dieter had no inkling of the emerging consciousness.
In addition and most importantly the new men had attended high school while the civil rights movement was gearing into full swing. The resultant uproar was very disquieting as the schools began to move from educational institution into Thought Management systems. Learning became subsidiary to attitude formation.
Black-White relations were managed by a small percentage of Whites concentrated in the universities, the press, publishing, entertainment and like influential areas. They were and are a self-righteous group of people who will use any excuse to belittle others and magnify themselves. They consider their opinion paramount to the law or perhaps more accurately they equate their opinion with the law. They have been in control from the times of Reconstruction to the present. They assume that they are pure and all others are foul and evil.
They assumed that all other Whites were and are incurable bigots. They assumed that all others had to be tightly controlled and beaten into submission. They moved from individualism into collectivism. They were censorious; they would tolerate no discussion of the problems and difficulties except on their own terms. Hence, while claiming to be pure democrats they imposed an authoritarian system not less severe than Hitler or Stalin punishing by expulsion from the community of anyone who dissented from their explicit viewpoint for any reason.
Small violations were met with draconian punishments. A sportscaster using the word ‘nigger’ in private conversation would be stripped of not only his livelihood but his self-respect. These criminal demons would actually equate such a person with Hitler. In a word they had been driven insane by their self-righteousness.
In their efforts to punish other Whites by making them consort with Negroes they wantonly insulted Black Folk by denying that they were capable of educating themselves. They completely destroyed the Black educational infrastructure turning an entire cadre of educators out on their ears from satisfying and rewarding careers to menial tasks. These Whites didn’t look forward and they didn’t look back. They weighed and evaluated nothing they merely acted out of their self-righteousness.
No consideration was taken of either the Negro intellect or the White intellect. No attempt at psychology was made. Thus with no preparation of either Blacks or Whites, Blacks were thrown into what Blacks considered a hostile environment.
Now, the image of this little Black girl in her cute little pink dress being escorted down the walk by the Army in Little Rock is a very effective piece of propaganda but cute little Black girls would never be the problem. Big Black boys with knives and razors bent on vengeance would be.